Cabin Life – #107

I’d like to tell you that it’s been a long couple of weeks out at the cabin.  That, Ice on a sprucehowever, would not be the truth.  The truth is, it’s been a couple of very lazy weeks lounging around in the comfort of an actual house.  The weather has been terrible and I was having to hike into the cabin and my firewood is running low and I was sick of dragging a forty pound jug of water a quarter mile uphill twice a week.  So I’ve been staying at my girlfriends with Pico and Herbie.  And the Levine men have officially taken over the couch.

I’m still formally living at the cabin, but it has been a nice break.  After three winters, I needed some time away from the work and cold and frustration of a house with no indoor plumbing.  The chickens are still out there, and are doing well.  As the days get longer, the nights haven’t been as cold, and they are doing fine.  I go out to the cabin pretty much every day, so even though I was still having to do the hike in, at least I wasn’t having to haul my laundry and bags of dog food and cat litter up that hill.

But speaking of hills, a friend invited me to climb a couple of High Peaks this past weekend.  I needed to get out of the house and just said yes when he texted me.  I didn’t realize that it was going to be a twenty four mile ski/snowshoe/hike.  But we headed out at about six am on Saturday to climb Cliff and Redfield mountains.  Twelve hours and forty-five minutes later, we struggled out of the woods and back to my car.

I drove to my girlfriend’s and stumbled in the door.  I literally could not move a muscle without moaning in pain, but I made it through the night without dying.  The next morning, as I painfully and stiffly made my way across the living room, she convinced me that best way to beat the soreness was to go for a walk or hike.  Now, keep in mind, she was not volunteering to go with me, just basically telling me to get out.  I think my moaning may have been worse than I thought.

I decided to head out to the cabin to feed the chickens and make sure they still had water, and very gingerly hopped in my car.  It’s about a twenty minute ride to the cabin, and every second of the way I was annoyed about the upcoming hike up the driveway.  I could barely walk on the flat, warm floor of the house, how was I possibly going to make it up the driveway.

As I got nearer to the cabin, I noticed that my neighbors were at their camp down the road.  I figured I’d take care of the girls and then head over to say high.  But as I neared the end of the road by my driveway, I was taken by the most magical sight I could behold at that moment:  My driveway was plowed.

I cracked a huge grin and smiled the whole way up the driveway.  I knew that my neighbor had come down and plowed with his tractor, and I was so happy I actually whooped with joy.  The thought of having a clear driveway again after two months was too much to handle.  I hugged the chickens and rubbed Pico’s belly until he got sick of it and ran down the driveway.

I took care of everything at the cabin and went down the road to say thanks to the neighbors.  I gave him a hug and promised to drop off a few gallons of diesel fuel in payment.  This one kind act changed my whole outlook on the last month or so of the winter.  It seemed as if so many problems had been solved by this one incredibly kind gesture.  My mood was lifted and my spirit sunny.  The neighbor s told me they were happy to help, but that they wouldn’t be back for a few weeks.

All of those warm feelings stayed with me until I got back and checked the weather forecast.  Twenty inches of snow predicted.  It’s amazing how fast the wind got sucked out of my sails.  Not that it’s all bad.  I know that the snow is here for a limited time, but it was so nice driving into the cabin a couple of times.  I can’t thank my neighbors enough for plowing, even if the openness only last for a few days.

Cabin Life – #75

Well, I woke up to pouring rain this morning.  It’s really coming down, to the Apple Blossomspoint where my alarm didn’t wake me up, the pounding of the rain on the tin shed roof did.  All the windows are even closed due to the cold temperatures, and the rain was still loud enough to break my slumber.  But at least it wasn’t snow coming down like this.  The forecast has called for a chance of snow for the next few days, and while it wouldn’t be a major inconvenience to get some snow, it would be a little depressing.  Plus, I’m worried about the apple trees.

Last spring when the warmth came early and was followed by a month of cold, all my apple blossoms were killed.  In October, I found a whopping grand total of seven or eight apples.  These meager offerings were spread out amongst almost twenty trees, and not a single one was edible.  I only found one apple that wasn’t obviously bad, but when I bit into it, there was no sweetness or crunch.  Just mush and blandness.

Last week, the apple trees really started to go crazy.  After some unseasonably hot and dry conditions, spring sort of normalled out for a few weeks and gave us warm days, cool nights, and plenty of rain.  Actually, up until the snow storm warnings, it’s been nice weather, and the plants are definitely noticing it.  I got no apples, blueberries or raspberries last year due to the drought.  The apple trees are white with flowers and the light green blossoms of the blueberry bushes are starting to emerge.

But now I’m worried about losing the entire apple crop yet again.  I’ve only been able to taste a few of the apples out here, but a lot of these trees bear very different fruit than you find in the supermarket.  Some were dull pink on the inside and others were bitter but smelled magnificent.  I’m looking forward to seeing the whole range of non-homogenized fruit that they’ll produce.

But if we get more stupid snow tonight, I’m afraid the blossoms will go un-pollinated or freeze altogether, and I’ll be left with a weak and pathetic harvest.  There are a few trees that haven’t bloomed yet, and I’m beginning to feel like those might be my safety backup supply.  Hopefully they won’t be the only ones I get.

When I moved in to the cabin a couple of falls ago, the apples were a little too far gone to be of much use, and I had a lot of other things to accomplish that were more important that eating apples.  I was excited with the variety but not prepared to take advantage of it.  Now it just seems like a cruel hoax.  I got that sweet first taste, and then they were taken from me without permission.  I hope that last year was payment enough for them to come through this year.

Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #63

It’s forty degrees, the icicles are dripping snowmelt off the roof, and it’s Iceiclessnowing out.  Today seems to be a perfect example of the paradox of the season.  March starts tomorrow, and the end of winter is in sight.  But there’s a pretty solid likelihood of getting a bunch more snow, as well as days and nights that are bitterly cold.

This, for me, is often the toughest time of the year.  I’m still enjoying the winter skiing and snowshoeing, as well as the sight of the white woods.  But as we get deeper into March and closer to my birthday, I start getting antsy for spring to be here.  Last year, there wasn’t really a part of the winter like this, seeing as it was so warm and light on snow.  I mean, I went canoeing on my birthday in late March last year.  That was definitely a first for me.

The driveway is a hot mess now too.  I’m still able to drive up to the cabin and haven’t had to hike in since the middle of January.  But as the snow that’s on the ground gets heavier and wetter, it’s harder and harder to stay on the tracks I’ve made.  I’ve slid off the tracks a few times and always have to back up a little bit before getting back on them and driving up to the yard.  It won’t be long before I’m complaining about the mud at the top of the driveway, but for now, I’ll have to complain about the snow.

Pico and I took a nice long walk down the road this afternoon.  I don’t keep him on a leash out here, as he has never shown an inclination to take off on me.  He wanders a hundred yards ahead of me and sometimes if he finds something especially interesting to smell, I may even get ahead of him a little bit.  Today was the first time all winter when someone came down the road as we were walking though.  I grabbed Pico’s collar and held on as the pickup truck drove by us to the end of the road, turned around and came back by.  I recognized the truck as one of my “neighbors” from down the road about two miles.  His little dog was sticking its head out the window as they went past and the little dog and Pico shared a hello bark as the driver and I shared the obligatory half wave.

I think what makes this time of year something that I think about is that it’s warm and nice and perfect weather for going out and doing my favorite activities, but due to the overcast sky and chance of rain, I find it hard to be motivated to go skiing.  The days are longer and warmer but there’s always the feeling that I can go tomorrow.  Without having to drive anywhere to go skiing, it’s easy for me to throw on some clothes and boots and head out right from the front door.

Even though I am looking forward to the warm days of spring there’s also the dread that the snow coming down could turn to rain, and kill the snowpack that’s already on the ground.  Then there won’t be any skiing tomorrow or anytime soon.  It’s the differences in these two attitudes that makes March interesting.  I can’t wait to go skiing again, and I also can’t wait to be able to walk around the woods without snowshoes or skis.

This sums up my attitude about living out here as well.  I love the life and simple pleasures my lifestyle provides.  But I’m torn when I want to take a hot shower or just veg out and watch TV.  The paradox of the season is representative of my lifestyle.  Looking forward to polar opposite desires brings me down and motivates me at the same time.  I’d like to take a hot shower whenever I want, but I also don’t want to pay for utilities or live in some dumpy apartment.  I just have to weigh my desires and decide which is best for me, just like anyone else.  After all, the hard decision of moving out here has already been made.  Now it’s up to me to make it work.

Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #61

Evening Entertainment
Psychologically, I am ready for winter to be over.  I like the snow and the skiing and the trips to the gym that I just can’t justify when it’s nice out, but I would really like some nice warm days to come our way.  Maybe I’m not ready for winter to be completely done, but I could use a February or early March thaw.

I was sitting here reading the other night, when the radio suddenly turned off.  This is a common occurrence, due to the fact that my radio is a “solar” radio.  I put solar in quotes because this is what the radio was advertised as, but it is, in fact a crank/rechargeable radio that happens to have a small solar panel on it.

This past summer I spent a little bit of money getting solar lights and this radio.  Last winter I had used an old digital alarm clock for my radio.  That clock was the same one that’s been waking me up since I was a freshman in high school.  It was a good, old-fashioned plug in clock radio that had a battery backup so that if the power went out, your alarm would still go off.  I went through a lot of nine-volt batteries listening to NCPR last winter, so many that I had to repair the wire harness a few times.  I took that clock radio to the campground last spring and decided to leave it there when I got my new solar radio.

The reception that I get on the new radio is good, but tuning it is a hassle and if I don’t charge it in the car then I will inevitably spend a significant portion of my evening cranking the thing so that I’m not sitting here in an eerie, mind-numbing, depression-inducing silence.

All that being said though, I wonder how long I would last without it.  Now, admittedly, I live in a writer’s dream.  Solitude, peace, quiet, and lots of inspiration surround me.  I like the peace and quiet, with no neighbors’ dogs barking or loud vehicles driving by.  I like the lack of distraction when I’m writing and reading.  But riding out the winter with its long nights would most definitely be a lot more trying if not for the company of the radio.

I suppose that when you deprive yourself of a lot of distractions, it becomes a luxury to have a little something going on in the background.  I have friends that have come to visit the North Country and can’t sleep because there’s no sound of traffic or sirens to listen to as they drift off.  I don’t have that problem.  There’s no shortage of noise out here, it’s just not the type of noise created by planes, trains and automobiles.

Between the wood crackling in the stove and two rambunctious, mostly nocturnal cats, I have plenty of sound to drift off to.  Throw Pico’s gentle snoring into the mix and the sound of the ever-present wind blowing around the cabin and it’s basically a symphony of natural sounds all night long.  But there’s sometimes I just don’t feel like listening to the wind or to Ed and Herbie wrestling.  That’s when the radio becomes important.  The distraction of music or talk radio or whatever is on gives me a much needed respite from the regular sounds this cabin makes.

When the sun goes down at four-thirty in the afternoon, it’s the radio that keeps me awake until seven.  When I don’t know if I should bother shoveling in the morning, it’s the radio that lets me know.  And it’s not that I have the radio on all the time.  I can’t write with the radio on, but I can read and play Scrabble.  I don’t change the station that frequently because it’s a bother, so I often listen to talk radio or music for a week at a time.  Sure, the radio I got may be under-performing.  However, it’s my lifeline to the outside world and my one source of passive electronic entertainment.  And if that means that I have to spend ten minutes cranking it to listen to twenty minutes of music, I guess I’ll just have to be ok with that.

Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #54

Nick's Place
The snow is still falling, but not as fast and furious as it was earlier.  I heard on the solar radio that this is now called Winter Storm Euclid, but I think most people will remember it as the Blizzard of 2012.  I’ve got about twelve to fourteen inches on the ground, and it is still coming down.

I woke up early this morning to a text message from a friend letting me know that she had made it to Colorado alright.  The sun wasn’t up, but it was starting to get light out, so I got up and fed the pets and the woodstove.  The stove was cranking and it was pretty warm in the cabin.  I hadn’t done anything different in terms of what or how much I burned, but it was noticeably hotter in here.  When Pico and I went out for our morning relief, I figured out why it was so warm inside.  There was eight inches of snow on the roof providing a lot of extra insulation.

The next thing I did was to wax up my skis and get dressed for some outdoor activities.  After getting about a quarter mile from the cabin, I was glad I had set out early.  The snow was getting deep and it was hard to glide when I was breaking trail.  I could have followed Pico’s path, but that quarter mile would have turned into a half mile the way he runs all over the place.

Pico didn’t mind the new boots I had put on his feet, and the two of us made our way down to the little lean-to, named for the kid that built it, Nick’s Place.  It’s only about five feet high, eight feet wide and six feet deep, just enough for a couple of people to sleep in, though I doubt anyone has stayed there in quite a few years.  I’m always a little worried though, that when I round the corner of the trail and Nick’s Place comes into sight that some hermit or drifter will be staring out of the doorway at me.  It hasn’t happened yet, and since not even my landlord has seen the thing, I doubt if anyone will wander out here and find it.  But I always get just a little tense when I get close.  The more logical fear when it comes to the lean-to is that Pico will run in there and be face to face with a porcupine or raccoon.  He’s marked the area well, and hopefully my fears don’t come true.

Last weekend, I took Pico, a folding saw and some loppers to clean up the trail to the lean-to.  I’d like to make this place a little more accessible, and the first step in clearing out the existing trails.

From my cabin, I take the road that leads to Upper Camp.  About half way to Upper Camp there is a junction trail that goes off to the right.  It passes one of the old hand-dug wells and follows a stone wall to a large ash tree.  From there, the trail continues straight to a little clearing where all the pine trees were cut to build Upper Camp.  But the trail to Nick’s Place goes right, through a break in the large stone wall and meanders off into the woods.  I clipped some branches and small balsams that had started to grow, and pulled a few dead trees out of the way that fallen across the trail.  The trail then empties into an open glade, which in summer is beautiful.  Moss lines the ground and the thick clumps of balsam and spruce give off a classic Adirondack aroma.

There are thick evergreens that surround Nick’s Place, masking it in the woods.  Nick was the son of the previous owner’s and he did a nice job building this place.  The front is about half closed in but there is a doorway and a window, and the roof provides a little overhang so that snow doesn’t make its way inside.  After cutting out a few trees, you can see the lean-to from the where the trail enters the glade.  At least I don’t have to get too close now to see if anyone is living in there.

But this morning was not a work morning.  Pico and I just skied out to Nick’s Place and then bushwhacked up into the woods, heading towards the clearing up above.  I’d like to mark and cut a trail from the lean-to to the clearing, and found a pretty good route up there.  Of course, the route I took this morning is now covered in snow, and I’ll have to mark it another time, hopefully when there is not a blizzard going on.  It’s just one of the perks of doing this type of thing out here.  I get to ski it once, then ski again to mark it, and then ski it again to cut it out.  I could have done all that today, but I’m looking forward to having to do the route a few more times.  You know, as long as I don’t run into anyone along the way.


Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and daily updates and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #53

Wood Shed Latch
Well, the world didn’t end, so we got that going for us, which is nice.  In fact, on the official first day of winter, we finally started getting some snow.  It rained all day, then switched to the very fine snow that blows around and looks like it’s snowing like crazy.  I woke up hoping to go skiing, but there’s still only an inch or so of snow on the ground.  I really want to go skiing.

The fine snow somehow makes it through the screens on my porch, coating everything out there.  I always try to sweep the porch before walking on it too many times, but Pico doesn’t care if the porch is clean.  He loves the snow.  When I let him out, he usually stares at the screen door like it’s the biggest barrier he’s ever seen.  But when we get snow, he noses open the door and takes off to prance around in the fresh white stuff.

Coming home last night, I drove through the white tunnel that is my road.  The balsams and pines that line either side of the road were coated in white, the branches just starting to droop a little bit under the weight of the snow.  I didn’t see any tracks across the road or going up the driveway.  Maybe it was too windy last night for the animals to be moving around much.

But on my way out this morning, I had a big fat bobcat run across about twenty feet in front of the car.  The first time I saw a bobcat was on the way up St. Regis Mountain.  When I was in college, I worked for a couple of summers as a Watershed Steward, which included a few days per week hiking to the very top of our little watershed, which was the summit of St. Regis.  I started walking up there one morning, my car the only one at the trailhead parking lot.

The first half or so of the trail is rolling, open woods.  Just before I started heading up the steeper, rockier part of the trail, I took off my baseball cap to wipe my forehead.  When I took off the hat, I caught a glimpse of some movement a few hundred yards ahead of me.  I looked more closely and saw the bobcat just staring at me.  The cat looked pretty small and leisurely walked off.  He was on the rock, so I didn’t see any tracks, but it was nice to see the cat.  The Paul Smith’s mascot is the bobcat, and it was nice to see one so close to campus.

The bobcat I saw this morning was at least twice the size of that other one.  The short little tail was sticking up as it took three leaps across the road.  I stopped to look at the tracks in the snow, and it’s paws were bigger than Pico’s.  I could still see him walking off into the woods, over a dead birch tree that was on the ground.  He didn’t even look back at me, totally unconcerned that I was only a dozen or so yards away.  I hope he stays in this neck of the woods and makes an appearance once in a while.  As long as I don’t see those big tracks on the porch, we’ll get along just fine.

Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Cabin Life – #49

It’s Thanksgiving week, and there’s no snow on the ground.  There’ve been some heavy frosts, and I’ve had to scrape my windshield most days in the last week.  Right now there’s a heavy frost covering the apple trees and the sun is coming up over Whiteface.  I really wish my camera battery was charged.

When I was growing up, I had a running bet with my grandfather that there would be snow on the ground Thanksgiving morning.  We always hosted dinner, sometimes with more than twenty people, but Grandpa would always walk in and give me five bucks and not say anything to me.  I would grin and pocket the money, happy in my ability to predict the weather.  Of course, most years, there was already snow on the ground before Thanksgiving, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that I had a pretty good streak of winning that bet.

And then one year when I was ten or eleven or twelve, I woke up Turkey Day morning to the sight of no snow.  I had what should be described as a very easy childhood, and I assumed that Grandpa would ask for his money, but not really demand it.  I did not know Grandpa as well as I thought.

He came walking in the side door of our house on Fifth Ave in Gloversville.  There were a few steps to walk up into the kitchen, and when he crested the third step and saw me, I inherently learned the phrase “sh*t-eating grin.”  It was a very clear lesson.  He was getting his five bucks and he was going to enjoy every single second of it.

Grandpa was, by any definition, “old school.”  He had a large leather recliner, everyone else got the couch or the floor or a folding chair.  And it was his remote.  His and his alone.  We stayed at the dinner table until plates were clean.  There was absolutely no wrasslin’ in the house.  But he was gruff in a way that told you how much he cared about  you.  Just don’t tick him off.

As I grew up, and even after he passed away, I got to know Grandpa better.  He would have liked that I was living out here.  There’s no way he would do it, but I’m sure that he would have some stories and old woods tricks to share to help me along.  I remember the way he smiled, and his eyes would get all squinty.  It’s a trait that I inherited, and when I smile I usually think about him, which just makes me smile more.


Be sure to like Middle of the Trail on Facebook for more pictures and follow @JustinALevine for whatever it is I do on Twitter.

Snow’s going fast

The snow is melting fast.  It’s been warm and sunny or warm and rainy for a couple of days.  Early spring this year apparently.


Cabin Life – #12

Logging by hand has to be one of the most pointless and inefficient activities I have engaged in so far.  I have been “cleaning the woods” as it were, dragging out large limbs and cutting dead trees to get wood for next year’s fire wood supply.

This year’s supply is large, but the quality of the wood is not that good.  When we moved here in the fall, my then-roommate and I didn’t have the money to buy fire wood, and since we had fifty acres at our disposal, we figured we could cut, haul, and split our own wood.  Luckily, we found a pile of logs that had been cut three years ago, but the bark was left on, so they had started to rot.  Also, it was mostly soft woods like white pine, spruce, and poplar (aspen).  But it was free and dry.

He's not smiling. He's laughing at me.

We were able to mix in a lot of hardwood from scrounging and an existing supply of wood left by the previous owners.  Trust me, ten year old hard wood burns really, really nice.

I’m not sure if I’ll be living out here next year, but since I have lots of free time, I decided to comb the woods, finding nice pieces of downed or standing dead hardwoods.  I got lucky with some of the wind storms we’ve had this winter and I’ve dragged cherry, maple, beech, and a little birch out of the woods.

On nice days, I usually take Pico and go for a walk around just to check things out.  It’s on these rambles that I find the wood.  If it needs to be cut up into smaller, more manageable pieces, then I take Pico back to the cabin and grab my chainsaw stuff.  Some of what I cut is pretty dangerous, with dead limbs, lots of weight pressure, and pressure from other trees that the dead stuff is leaning against.  Luckily, I have lots of experience running a chainsaw in difficult conditions so I feel comfortable doing this kind of cutting.  I also always wear cutting boots (steel toe, Kevlar all around), Kevlar chaps, and a cutting helmet with face guard and ear muffs.

Once the logs are cut up into four or five foot lengths (depending on diameter, the skinny ones I leave longer), then the real grunt work begins.  I grab Pico again and start walking out to where the wood is.  Today, it was about a quarter mile away, and Pico and I made at least ten round-trips.  That’s about five miles of walking, half of it carrying logs that weigh anywhere from five to fifty pounds.  Even Pico was panting on our last couple of trips.  And other than moral support, he was no help at all.

After I get the logs back to the cabin yard, I block it up into firewood-length pieces (16” or so) and split any of the bigger pieces.  There are still some monster logs out in the woods that I’ll drag out once I can get the four-wheeler going.  Or maybe I’ll buy a horse.

My shoulders are bruised, and there’s no way I could lift my arms over my head right now, but at least I’ve got a start on a better wood supply for next year.  Yeah, dragging all those logs out by hand is dumb.  So I’m dumb.  Dumb like a fox.

Cabin Life – #9

I like sitting at the table in front of the big window and seeing the wood smoke drift out towards the driveway.  Sometimes the smoke catches the sunlight and throws a blast of light into the cabin, sometimes it casts a shadow.  The blue jays haven’t been around much lately, but the nut hatches are getting closer and closer.

I’ve seen some black-capped chickadees (yes, I’ve learned the difference) in the apple trees.  They always seem to hang out in the trees where there are no rotten apples still clinging to the branches, but in the barren trees.  I figured they would want to pick apart the apples and get the seeds, but I guess not.  Maybe they have enough food without going through all that work.  That’s what I love about nature, you never really know.

I’ve been hearing a moose near-by.  Not too far from hear, on Normans Ridge Rd., was where some of the first confirmed sightings of moose were back about ten years ago.  My “neighbors,” who have not been seen since hunting season, supposedly captured the moose on their game camera.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they were near the cabin.  They tend to like heavily wooded areas, and except for a few acres of cleared land right around my cabin, it’s pretty wooded up here.

The forest is really nice.  I like all forests, but the land here is just amazing.  There are tight clumps of evergreens amid huge, open stretches of hardwoods.  The rabbit tracks dart from evergreen to evergreen, and the birds hang out in the bare hardwoods until Pico and I walk by.  Then they scramble to hide themselves among the green boughs of the white pine, red spruce and eastern hemlock.

There’s definitely been some very cold snaps, even for this mild winter.  Twenty below zero hasn’t been all that uncommon so far, and when it’s that cold, even the trees have a hard time staying alive outside.  Maybe that’s something that most people don’t think about, that trees and plants are living things that are subject to the same survival scenarios as any wild animal.  Day after day and night after night, they stand against the cold, the wind, the weight of the snow.  And sometimes, just like people, they snap.  The weight of the world tears them down against all odds, and then some puny human like me comes along to cut up and split their remains for next year’s fire wood supply.